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The Growing Epidemic of Childhood Obesity

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The childhood obesity epidemic in America has been growing for many years. Many point the finger at parents declaring they are guilty of feeding their children too much. It is the responsibility of the American people and not solely the parents to create significant lifestyle changes in order to put an end to the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.

In the last 30 years obesity rates for preschoolers and adolescents have doubled. Obesity rates have tripled for children ranging in age from 6 through 11. Doctors warn that obese children are at risk for health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver, and kidney problems. Obese children also suffer from psychological problems such as depression and low self esteem.

The American lifestyle for children has changed drastically over the last three decades. In the past, children ran around during recess at school and played for hours outside after school. Dinner was cooked at home and included vegetables. Now children spend time after school watching television, playing video games, and surfing the Internet. Parents are busier than ever and frequently purchase take-out food for dinner. Portion sizes in restaurants have grown two to five times larger.

Society has yet to provide clear guidelines on acceptable behavior concerning obesity. This year an interagency group that includes representatives from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed voluntary guidelines regarding the way in which food is marketed to children. The primary objective of the interagency group has been the promotion of children's health through better diet thereby reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity. The proposed recommendations were designed to encourage children, with advertising and marketing, to choose foods that are healthy and minimize consumption of food that would have a negative impact on health or weight.

Junk food marketing has a significant impact on children. "Junk food giants Kraft and Nabisco are both majority-owned by tobacco producer Philip Morris, now renamed Altria. Similarity number one is the denial that the problem (obesity) is caused by the product (junk food)." Cereals marketed to children on average contain 85% more sugar than cereals marketed to adults. "Nutrition experts express concern that the proliferation of nutrition-related claims on product packaging is confusing to consumers, makes it difficult to accurately assess overall nutritional quality, and can be misleading."

Fast food restaurants are beginning to feel some pressure from consumers to provide more health conscious choices in their menus. McDonald's, for example, plans to reduce the portion size of French fries and add apple slices to their Happy Meals beginning this fall. "McDonald's says the change will reduce calories in its "most popular" Happy Meals by as much as 20 percent."

Many public schools still allow the sale of unhealthy food to children. This must change if expectations are that the number of obese children will be reduced. Many schools rely on the income generated from the sale of food



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